One Year in Vancouver

Kitsilano Beach, Vancouver
Kitsilano Beach, Vancouver

One year ago today, I boarded a dawn flight to Vancouver feeling slightly hungover and completely terrified. I was neither willing nor ready to leave home, a terrible combination when you’re preparing for a one-way flight. I arrived in the city with three suitcases, thirty books, and a dim idea that people in Vancouver spend all of their time eating sushi and doing yoga in front of mountains. The first and only time I had been to British Columbia I was fifteen and spent the majority of my time in arenas in Chilliwack. Still, I decided that British Columbia was the province I was meant to live in and Vancouver was the city I was destined to move to. Seven years later, I applied to graduate school in Vancouver on the strength of this conviction. I accepted the program’s offer with some trepidation but I mainly felt confident that I was following a well-crafted plan I had made for myself years prior. Somewhere between the completion of my clusterfuck of an undergraduate thesis and my fourth month sitting in a grey walled cubicle in Toronto’s Financial District, I began to have some doubts. I debated staying in Ontario but I realized that doing so would result in two things: run-ins with friends and peers who would wonder why the hell I wasn’t in BC and in a fifth month copying and pasting into Excel spreadsheets. I wanted nothing more than to avoid both of those things so I decided once and for all that I was moving and there wasn’t a damn thing that was going to stop me.

After one month in Vancouver, I wrote a post about my realization that this was the right time for me to leave Ontario, to push myself to the edge of my world to see what I would discover there. I finished writing, saw a spider the size of a coaster and cried for two hours; my writing was never shared. I exaggerate but the feelings are true all the same. I was afraid of everything the city had to offer: its streets, its dogs, its dirty cafes and its people. Its people most of all, even though I was desperate to make friends with them. My loneliness had me searching cafes with bewildered eyes and making jokes to baristas that always fell flat. I spent time with my peers but I was afraid of them too because the only things they seemed to talk about were David Foster Wallace and SSHRC funding. I decided I would finish my Master’s degree as quickly as possible because if I didn’t, I would die of loneliness if the rain didn’t try to drown me first. I took too many courses at once, marked two-dozen engineering papers to mitigate the cost of living in Kitsilano, saw an army’s worth of spiders, moved out of Kitsilano and moved into the Fairview apartment that I’m writing from today. Okay, it wasn’t all bad. I was already getting acquainted with what the city had to offer and my Monday night trivia team kept winning free beer. However, the latter made my Tuesday morning Victorian Literature seminars difficult and only added to the apathy I felt for George Eliot and phrenology.

Pier 57, Seattle, Washington
Pier 57, Seattle, Washington

Following a holiday with the Heffs in Seattle and a visit from Kelly in Vancouver, I started the next term with as many courses and more engineering papers than before. My roommate Stephen and my temporary roommate Ivan witnessed my struggles with Affect Theory and Ulysses. I sat in seminars drawing cats in the margins of my notebooks, speaking only to describe my affective response to whatever theorist we were reading that week. I walked the Cambie Bridge almost daily in a quest to make it to my Bean Around the World of choice. After seven months I realized I could get there a lot faster by SkyTrain. A misguided attempt at high scholarship had me trolling through collections of Samuel Beckett’s early works while I listened to Beastie Boys CDs I picked up from the Vancouver Public Library. Looking back on it now, that almost sounds like fun. It was around this time that I started sitting on my apartment’s balcony and engaging my neighbours in casual conversation. I could dedicate an entire blog post to my neighbours Trevor and Tyler who have since moved away, but it will suffice to say conversations with them got me through a seminar paper on Friedrich Kittler and Gravity’s Rainbow and made me realize there is more to life than feigning interest in literary theory. It was also around this time that the weather started to improve. I discovered Jonathan Rogers Park, found the greatest old school Canucks jacket in time for their playoff elimination, and realized I didn’t hate Vancouver as much as I though. At the end of eight months – eight and a half, if you count the extension I got on my Mediated Literacies essay – I had finished all of the coursework required for my degree. I took a trip home to visit some of the people I love and returned to Vancouver on an afternoon flight, in good physical health and feeling hardly any terror.

Stanley Park, Vancouver
Stanley Park, Vancouver

In the last four months, I have been lucky enough to meet great people in Vancouver. Some of them I met when Stephen’s friends came to stay with us. Others I met when I joined the English department softball team, The Prose, and have since had great times with sharing post-game (and mid-game) beers. I have been to games nights at Kristan’s, where I always make new friends and try fine tequila. I have spent enough time in Jonathan Rogers Park to meet the Australian football team that practices there, the West Coast Saints. Even though he has since moved away, I’ll remember Kerron for being a charming little shit with a propensity for sneaking up on me and for using Aussie slang so I wouldn’t know what the hell he was talking about. Also, for introducing me to the greatest radio station ever, triple j. Stephen, Michael and I made a truly bizarre Sunday night trip to The Libra Room on Commercial Drive; Stephen and I ended up in possession of one Pape and three Reba McEntire albums as a result. Emily came to visit me and after deciding that it wasn’t enough to eat and drink our way through Vancouver, we made a trip to Portland. (Stories of our bus trip, coming to a blog near you.) With Emily, Stephen and Doug, I celebrated my ‘nobody likes you when you’re 23’ birthday. I have since tried to convince everyone I know to come to The Cobalt with me so I can use their photo booth. The best laugh of my summer was either when Michael opened up his pantry and revealed almost a dozen jars of Bick’s sauerkraut, or when Stephen, Amanda and I reflected on the night we went to The Fox and ended up at the now infamous 24 hour pho restaurant. My peers have become my friends though the frequency with which the word plebs occurs in their conversations continues to alarm me. Just kidding, all of you keep my life interesting.

As for my progress on my Master’s degree, I’m hard at work on my thesis on Kendrick Lamar. I’m still trying to finish this degree as quickly as possible because I have realized I’m not meant to stay in academia. While I love the topic of my thesis, working on it in the initial stages has been more frustrating than rewarding. On bad days, this frustration is intensified by the fact that even with all the great people I have met here, I don’t have the support system in Vancouver I have at home. On good days, I remember that I will finish my thesis eventually and in the mean time I should probably join Stephen and Ivan on their quest for the best chicken and waffles in Vancouver. (They eat the chicken, I eat the vegetarian option.) The thought of spending four more months on a project I had hoped to finish by the end of August is daunting. To finish my thesis by the end of December would be to finish the degree eight months earlier than the university expects me to. The odds are against me but it will be worth it to finish sooner so I can wrap up and get on with the next phase of my life. What that phase will be, I’ll figure out when I write my Master’s thesis.

Portside Park, Vancouver
Portside Park, Vancouver

Now you know what I’ve been doing for the past year. Thank you for a hell of a year, Vancouver, and thank you to everyone who made the worst days bearable and the best days worth writing home about. Given the length of this post, this should suffice for personal updates for the next year. Until then, I’ll keep on trying to be the good kid, Van City.

Song of the Day: Pretty Pimpin by Kurt Vile

High School

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Four days before my university graduation, I’ve decided to write about my high school experience. Rather than present one organized story or essay, I’ve presented my high school experience in anecdotes and life lessons. Some of the lessons relate to the stories that precede or follow them, but some lessons appear at random, much in the way that life lessons appear in life. And with that, I present to you high school.

In grade ten, everyone did a career aptitude test. While everyone around me got reasonable careers like accountant or doctor, my aptitude test declared I was best suited to be a stuntwoman.

Life Lesson from High School #1.  Do what you’re passionate about. Doing things that don’t matter to you will eventually exhaust you.

I spent most of my high school career figuring out what I didn’t want to do, rather than what I wanted to do. As a child I wanted to become an astronaut, but I gave up on that dream once I realized I was claustrophobic and was consequently afraid of spaceships. For years after, I was certain that I wanted to become an architect, only to realize that I preferred looking at buildings to drawing them. I considered a number of professions ranging from doctor to hired assassin, but eventually I concluded that my interests didn’t lie in science and I didn’t know how to shoot a gun. Though I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do in life even after I had accepted a university offer, I knew that through the trial and error process, I was getting closer to where I wanted to be.

Song: Lying Is The Most Fun A Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off by Panic! At The Disco

He was almost at the finish line, and he was doing better than anyone thought he could. We were so excited, we started cheering, “You can do it! You’re almost there!” He put his arm out in front of him and sprinted past everyone around him. It was only after he passed us that we realized he wasn’t near the finish line. He had as many kilometres ahead of him as he had behind him. We cheered the boy to the finish line two kilometres too soon. When he passed us the second time, he wasn’t nearly as happy to see us.

Life Lesson from High School #2. Sometimes you’re going to feel like no one is worse at something than you are. You’ll feel like you’re not as smart, not as attractive, not as athletic as everyone around you. Often you will realize you were being too critical of yourself. Sometimes you’ll realize that given the situation, you are the less intelligent, attractive or athletic. With time you’ll come to recognize when you’re being self-critical and when you’re being self-aware.

I always felt self-conscious when I was playing volleyball in gym class because I felt like I was the worst one on the floor. Eventually I realized that I didn’t need to feel self-conscious because I really was the worst one on the floor. Surprisingly, it made volleyball a little more fun because I no longer felt like I needed to prove myself. I’d like to say that I ended up improving and went onto make the senior volleyball team the following year, but the fact of the matter is, my volleyball career culminated when I spiked a distant cousin in the nose at a family reunion. At least at that point I had given due warning that I wasn’t very good at volleyball.

Song: Kids by MGMT

Excerpt from My High School Journal #1: Maybe he’ll see me when I don’t look like a Dalmatian and frizzy poodle hybrid. That would be nice. Good night.

The next entry 10:40 – My cat decided to eat my hand.

We were given a sculpture assignment in grade nine art class where we were supposed to sculpt and paint a reptile. I sculpted a brontosaurus in a straw hat. When my friends complimented the sculpture as a whole and the hat in particular, I told them I had received a low mark on it. My art teacher’s comment was that dinosaurs didn’t wear hats. To this day, I’m surprised that my teacher had such a limited view on reptilian fashion.

Life Lesson from High School #3. a) You will often hear, ‘Just because everyone is doing it doesn’t mean that you have to.’ It’s human nature to want to do what everyone else is doing. Decide what’s really worth doing, but don’t force yourself to think differently just because you’re told that you should or shouldn’t think that way.

b) In that regard, at times in high school – and in life generally – you’re going to want to be someone who you’re not. Trying to be the best version of yourself is one thing. Trying to be someone who you can never be will only hide and destroy the characteristics of the person you’re meant to be.

In grade twelve, I experienced what I now call my Black Swan year. I was waiting for university acceptances without much of a sense of what I wanted to do and I was skating with the synchronized skating team I had won Nationals with the previous year. My team was performing poorly due to a number of issues with the team dynamic, so there was a lot of arguing on and off the ice. I was determined that I would never be a part of the problem, so I decided I was going to do everything perfectly. I would go through the program in practice like it was a performance. I aimed to have the perfect bun, the perfect posture and the perfect expression. I even became obsessed with having perfectly tied skates, to the point that I usually retied my skates twice before I would step on the ice. This perfectionism extended into school, where I felt like I had to have the correct answer to every question from my calculus homework. Though my downfall wasn’t as dramatic as Natalie Portman’s character’s in Black Swan, I eventually had a collapse that had me crying at a competition and failing a calculus quiz. The failed attempt at perfection led to my worst track season of my high school career. Eventually I realized that I really, really wanted to be perfect (the first step was admitting it to myself), and that I never could be perfect. I started to come to terms with this, stopped skating and chose the university that I secretly always wanted to go to. As for the impact of the Black Swan year in my university career, for the most part, I’ve learned to value the effort and enthusiasm that went into the work I did, rather than only valuing the perfection. I still get caught up with the need to be perfect sometimes, but I have friends and family to support me when I start to feel that way. I’ve also learned the signs of my stress level getting out of hand, like when I feel the need to make my kitchen weirdly clean. I have accepted that I’m not always going to hand in 90% essays, I’m not always going to say the right thing in conversations, and though I failed to realize this at seventeen, I will very rarely have a perfect bun. I guess I knew this all along but now that I’ve accepted it, I’m a lot happier. Black Swan had a dramatic ending, but I never wanted that for my own life.

Song: Remembering Sunday by All Time Low

Excerpt from My High School Journal #2: You know those things that look disgusting but you have to try them anyways? Salsa and vanilla ice cream is one of them. I nearly threw up, but I had to give it a try.

We were in grade eleven biology, and we were supposed to focus in on a cell on the slide we had been given. Jaclyn had the cell all lined up, but when I went to adjust the microscope, I accidentally shifted it. “Courtney! You lost the cell!” Jaclyn exclaimed. “Don’t worry,” I said with confidence, “I can find it again.”

Life Lesson from High School #4. Sometimes the people you least expect will become your closest friends.

I had known Becca since grade nine, but we didn’t become friends until we ended up in the same gym class in grade eleven. Before that point, it always seemed like our interests were too different, and I was envious of her enthusiasm in French class when all I wanted to do was hide under a Bescherelle. We got talking as we ran laps one day, and then we found ourselves running laps together the next day, and the next day. One day I recommend Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging to her, and the rest is history.

Song: Chelsea Dagger by The Fratellis

After a few years without one, our school got a tent to bring to outdoor athletic events. The cross country team was proud to bring the tent to one of our major meets. We found it more difficult to set up than we had anticipated and much more difficult to tie down, particularly because it was a windy day, but after a few tries it was standing up more or less convincingly. We promptly walked away from the tent to deal with the more pressing matter of running races. When we came back twenty minute later, a little guy named Mac was chasing the tent – tarp, metal frame, pegs and all – across a park lot. Luckily, he managed to catch the tent before it blew into someone’s car.

Life Lesson from High School #5: You’ll have good days and you’ll have bad days. Remember the good moments for what they were without seeking to replicate them. Learn from the bad moments and let them go, and learn from the good moments too. If you’re forever recalling the negative moments, ever situation is going to be a shit one. And while saying you hated high school allows you to indulge your inner angsty teenager, it only breeds hate unnecessarily.

Excerpt from My High School Journal #3. Well, I’m not done yet, but this notebook is. I appreciate your patience with my dithering. It’s been a slice and in the words of my journaling mentor Georgia Nicholson, I’m away laughing on a fast camel.

Song: What I Got by Sublime

I may be older, better educated, and possibly wiser, but I still leave you with the same words that I ended my journal with at fifteen. It’s been a slice, and I’m away laughing on a fast camel.

Album of the Day: Fast Times at Barrington High by The Academy Is…

Interview With My Mother

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My mother has always been there to support me in whatever I decided to pursue, from the time I was two years old and said, “Mom, I can skate!” and proceeded to waddle across the ice, to the days when I wondered why the hell I chose to pursue an English degree, and I knew that I could only make sense of things if I called her. In recent years, she has transitioned from a mother to a best friend. She is the person I trust the most when I need advice, whether it’s on love, my life plan, or what I should wear on a Saturday night. Though many say we look and sound alike, we are more different than we are similar. This makes her support and her interest in my life even more meaningful. She will listen to me talk about my essays, even if she hasn’t read the books herself, and will listen to my favourite albums with me, even if she doesn’t like them. I know that she will always be cheering for me, especially on the days when I’m struggling. In honour of Mother’s Day, I decided to interview my mother. You hear a lot from me, so I thought it was time you heard from the woman who made and shaped me. Here is my interview with the woman the world calls Lynn, who I am proud to call Mom.

What have you enjoyed most about being a mother?

The joy I’ve experienced over the years watching you grow and develop as your own person, in wisdom and inner and exterior beauty. You are your own unique person, very comfortable and accepting of yourself and I’m extremely proud of that.

What was your greatest fear when you became a mother?

That you would choke on a hot dog! That’s why I cut them up until you were eight years old!

Another other fears?

That I wouldn’t have the answers to your questions when you needed them most. As it turns out, the answers came more naturally then I thought they would. I also wanted to protect you from the sorrows and trial and tribulations of life, but I realized I usually couldn’t and that you would have to figure things out for yourself. I had to trust in you to do this on your own. I sometimes still want to come to your rescue but realize you are grown up now and that I can’t.

You’ve been teaching for thirty years. Did being a teacher prepare you for motherhood?

Being a teacher taught me that there are many unique little individuals out there each with their own personalities and talents. Each one as different as the next. Having taught most grades, it was interesting to learn about the “milestones” children experienced, as well as the struggles as they became more mature. I often thought about these as you experienced these milestones for yourself.

What did you value the most about your mother?

I valued her intelligence.  She was a respected nurse and published writer. I was proud of her . The older I got the more I think I appreciated her.  She had so many friends, quite a diverse group and that says something about a person.  I think she had many friends because she was very open and accepting of everyone. Her compassion for people as well as other living things made her a special person in the eyes of many.

Which characteristics of your mother do you see in yourself?

To this day I am an animal lover like my mother was. I’m also a person who forgives easily. I learned that from her. I inherited a love of fashion and shopping from my mom who learned it from her mom. And now you enjoy it too. (I trained you at an early age!)

My mom thought it was important for us to travel and learn about new places. As a child our family travelled throughout Canada and the U.S., usually by car. I valued this as being really important so we were able to give you the experience of travelling broadly throughout your life.

Which of your characteristics do you see in me?

I think we are both energized by people who value us. We love to be with friends and appreciate them being in our lives. i think you are also a person who will forgive easily. You have the confidence in yourself that I had when I was your age.

What is the most valuable advice your mother gave you?

Trust in yourself and everything else will follow. This gave me the confidence to be who I am today.

What advice would you like to give me?

Be your own person. Be happy with who you are. Be with people who value you and get you and eventually be with the one who adores you. Realize that your dreams may not always be fulfilled but don’t stop dreaming. Take time to smell the flowers and always look for the good in people and situations. Life will always have it’s difficulties. It’s how you handle them and get back to living that will see you through your life.

Mom’s Song of the Day: Happy by Pharrell Williams

My Song of the Day: Ash Babe by Dan Mangan

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Notes from My iPhone

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If I wanted to open with a dramatic statement, I would say something like, My iPhone’s got more records than the KGB. But we all know that isn’t true, and that’s actually a line I took for MIA’s “Paper Planes.” Instead I’m going to say that I use my iPhone’s Notes app to keep track of ideas and encounters. Much of what ends up on this blog starts from something I wrote on my iPhone. I use it write down interesting things I overheard, or lines from conversations. A great thing about keeping notes in this way is that I always have information readily available to me that I can reference at opportune moments. Humour writer David Sedaris said his own practice of keeping notes is “an invaluable aid when it comes to winning arguments. ‘That’s not what you said on February 3, 1996,’ I’ll say to someone.” I agree completely. Many conversations benefit from direct quotations. However, I mainly use my iPhone to keep track of my ideas, or my jokes that were too weird to tweet.

I’ve had several friends say over the years that they would like to spend a day in my head, to hear the kind of things I think about. “It seems like it would be fun,” said my friend Allicia when we were in high school. And most of the time it is, though some days my thoughts sound something like, Burritos, burritos, burritos, bandanas! The days when I’m thinking about something more interesting than food are the days when I make notes. For everyone who has ever wanted to spend a day inside my head, these are some notes from my iPhone to give you a sense of what it would be like.

December 10, 2011: “She is Billy Bishop when we like her and the Red Baron when we don’t.”

January 21, 2012: Today was supposed to be the day, but then I checked the weather, and now I’m wearing wool, and today is not the day.

February 8, 2012: I was making notes about a Soviet lieutenant general Pavlov. One paragraph later, “Stalin had Pavlov shot.”

July 9, 2012: If I ever form an indie rock band, the band will be called Cruel Amusements and our first single will be called “Where Did You Get the Bears?”

October 9, 2012: Just cats and basketball.

January 31, 2013: Clearly he doesn’t care about my continuing artist pursuits.

April 22, 2013: Curses from the Man. Don’t let the Man get you down! I can come in as your attorney.

May 8, 2013: Cubicle naps are the best and worst things about desk jobs. I’ll never forget the time I fell asleep for a few minutes and dreamt I was going through files with my mother and a talking chihuahua.

July 11, 2013: I’m a little concerned that my attempt to politely tell a friend that I do not want to follow him on Twitter has been misinterpreted, and now he thinks I want to take our relationship to the next level.

August 5, 2013: Judging by the flow of traffic, I’ll arrive home in time to watch Saturday Night Live. That is to say, I’ll get home five days from now.

October 16, 2013: He’s the kind of guy everyone has a profound spiritual experience with.

November 9, 2013: I’m alone and I don’t know what I’m doing.

December 6, 2013: Overheard in SEB: “You have the logic of a potato.”

January 9, 2014: I’m checking text messages when I’m supposed to be mediating. This seems to be an accurate representation of my life.

January 18, 2014: (To use Jay-Z’s words to Beyoncé in “Drunk in Love”) I am the baddest bitch thus far.

Now if only I could find my grocery list and locker combination in the midst of all those other notes.

Song of the Day: White Teeth Teens by Lorde

So What, I’m Still a Rock Star

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New Year’s Resolutions can be great, but a few weeks of thinking about healthy eating, exercising, organization and goal setting all at the same time can leave you feeling exhausted. Setting resolutions for the year can be empowering, or it can leave you feeling like you live in the world of Radiohead’s “Fitter Happier.”

One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to post on my blog more frequently, but when I started to write over the past few days, I couldn’t settle on anything that I liked. I was unnecessarily stressed because I couldn’t get an idea to work. I had to write something, go to the gym, and eat a salad, when all I wanted to do was put on my Finding Nemo sweatshirt and eat a grilled cheese. And then I realized that I didn’t have to do any of those things if I didn’t want to. In the words of Hannah Horvath, I hold the keys to the prison that is my mind!

Resolutions are a great way of focusing yourself, especially if you’re the type of person who benefits from planning and goal setting. However, they can cause more harm than good. They can get you into a cycle of thinking that every aspect of your life has to be improved. You can start to feel like you have failed if you take a day or two off from the gym, or if you eat ice cream when you said you were going to eliminate dairy. The implicit aim in New Year’s Resolutions is to live a life that you can feel better about. If your resolutions are the thing that are keeping you from living a better life because you are constantly stressed about the things you’re doing wrong, then they’re no longer serving their purpose.

Yesterday, after feeling like there were all these things I had to do, I put on my Finding Nemo sweatshirt and I ate a grilled cheese. I realized that I would be happier if I did what I wanted, rather than forcing myself to do something just so I could say that I stuck to my resolutions. I’ll still keep my resolutions going, because most days I like going to the gym and eating healthily, and I know that I benefit from having goals to work towards. I also know that I benefit from a break on the days when I’m just not feeling it.

A wise woman who goes by the name of Pink once said, “So what, I’m still a rock star.” Though I know that she said it far more literally than I will ever be able to, as I have all the musical talent of a golden retriever, this is something that I like to think to myself on days when things aren’t going as planned. Resolution or not, the most important thing is to do what makes you feel good about yourself. If at the end of the day you can think, “So what, I’m still a rock star,” you know you’re doing something right.

I know you’re awesome. Now go out there and let yourself know too.

Song of the Day: So What by Pink